Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon opened his postgame session with reporters after Tuesday night’s 5-4 Rays victory over the Nationals - a game in which one of his relief pitchers, ex-Nat Joel Peralta, was ejected after umpires discovered pine tar in his glove - with a zinger that was equal parts tone-setter and a no-doubt-about-it retaliatory verbal punch at the losing team for what Maddon perceived as a breach of baseball etiquette.
“Heads up,” he warned reporters, wiping a clearly clean spot with a paper towel with the hint of a smile, “the desk is a little sticky right there.”
The desktop might not have been particularly offensive, but Maddon’s mood certainly was. He said the Nationals broke one of baseball’s unwritten rules to get his set-up man kicked out of a one-run game before he’d even thrown a pitch in the eighth inning.
“Insider trading right there,” said Maddon. “It’s bush. It’s bogus, man. That’s way too easy right there. If you had done some really good police work and noticed something, that’s different. But that’s way too easy. That was set up on a tee for them.”
Maddon used some other colorful language, too, the kind that gets excised from quotes to make them a little more palatable. But there was no question he was furious over the turn of events that overshadowed a tense game between contending clubs in a playoff atmosphere.
“You use (pine tar) on bats all the time,” he said. “Hitters are able to use it when they go up to home plate. I’m sure there’s times when the ball is thrown around the infield and it’ll come back a little more sticky than before. It just happens, OK? So to single out Joel Peralta tonight and make him look like a bad guy or a villain of any kind, that’s what upsets me. This is all going to land on Joel, and I don’t like that at all.”
What Maddon and Peralta didn’t say, however, was just as telling as what they did. Neither denied the presence of pine tar, perhaps because to do so would have been futile. Peralta, who pitched for Washington in 2010 and resuscitated a stalled career, said he was using the same glove he uses during batting practice and hinted that a ball thrown around the infield could have gotten some pine tar on the leather, but he wouldn’t say outright that the substance was accidentally there. Home plate umpire Tim Tschida called it “a significant amount of pine tar,” and impounded Peralta’s mitt.
“I am (upset). It happens to me,” said Peralta. “I would be upset if it happened to any of my teammates. I’m upset about it, but what am I going to say?”
Maddon spoke at length, but chose his words carefully. Asked if the offending substance could have found its way into Peralta’s glove by accident, Maddon practically cut off a reporter in mid-question: “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say it was accidental. I said it was in his glove.”
So how did Nationals manager Davey Johnson know to ask crew chief Tschida to check the glove? It may or may not have been common knowledge among his remaining Nats teammates that Peralta loaded up. Peralta pitched only 39 games for the Nats two seasons ago, but before being summoned to a depleted bullpen, Peralta had appeared 28 games for Triple-A Syracuse, closing for a club managed by Trent Jewett, who now the Nats’ first base coach.
If Jewett fed Johnson the incriminating information, Peralta took it in stride.
“Trent helped me a lot,” Peralta said. “I trust him and he’s a great guy. I don’t care who says something about it. I know Trent, he was like my dad in Triple-A, so if he did say something, I don’t care. He was really good to me.”
As hurt, agitated and embarrassed as Peralta may have been while he stood at his locker and tried to explain his actions without saying anything that would get him in any more trouble, Maddon was more incensed.
“From a real veteran staff on the other side, knowing how this thing works and how it’s worked for many, many years,” Maddon said, his voice trailing off. “You can go back to spitball pitchers, greaseball pitchers, whatever kind of pitchers, scuff-ball pitchers. It’s just the way this game as been played for a hundred years - or more than that. To single out Joel Peralta tonight, that’s my concern, is that Joel does not get vilified. This guy’s done a great job, he’s been an excellent relief pitcher and to any way tarnish what he’s done to this point (is wrong). ... There’s going to be suggestions based on what happened tonight, and again, I think that’s wrong and inappropriate. It’s been a common practice for many, many years for everybody to try to get an edge in different ways.”
Maddon - who retaliated by having umpires check the glove of Nats reliever Ryan Mattheus in the top of the ninth - went as far as to suggest the move may backfire on Johnson because it could cause negative repercussions for his players. Maddon told reporters to poll the home clubhouse to see how Nationals players felt.
“I would bet they are not very pleased with what went on tonight,” he said. “Again, it’s kind of a common practice, people have done this for years. To point one guy out because he had pitched here a couple of years ago, there was some common knowledge based on that. I thought it was cowardly. ... It was kind of a (expletive) move. I like that word. (Expletive) move right there.”
When asked if the bad blood would linger into the remaining two games of the series at Nationals Park, Maddon said he’d find out more during instructions from the umpires before Wednesday’s game.
Those with long memories may remember another similar incident in team history. On June 14 2005, the Nationals’ first season in D.C., Maddon was the bench coach for the Angels when manager Mike Scioscia and Washington skipper Frank Robinson almost came to blows after Robinson asked umpires to check the glove of Los Angeles reliever Brendan Donnelly. Tschida was the home plate in that battle between first-place clubs, and the ejection of Donnelly without throwing a pitch was just the beginning of the fireworks. Bullpens emptied and benches cleared when Scioscia, a former major league catcher, got in the then-70-year-old Robinson’s face, threatening to have the Nationals pitching staff undressed in retaliation for the examination of Donnelly. Washington right fielder Jose Guillen, an ex-Angel, had to be restrained and dragged back to the visitors’ dugout by his teammates.
“This one was a lot calmer,” Tschida told a pool reporter Tuesday night. “The managers both kept their cool. The one in Anaheim, I had to separate Scioscia and Frank Robinson.”
The Rays did their best to maintain decorum. As he was being escorted from the field, Peralta tipped his cap toward the Washington dugout.
“Good for them,” Peralta said. “They still lose the game. ... That’s all that matters: Win the game.”